Being a tall, white girl with light brown hair, blue eyes and a prominent nose puts me in an interesting position here on the island of Sumatra. Unlike Java or Bali, seeing westerners on my island, specifically in the area where I live, is fairly uncommon. While there are plenty of westerners that come through the paper and pulp mill (what’s up corporate giants), they rarely leave the suspended reality that is the hotel in our gated compound. That being said, some locals are genuinely intrigued when a light skinned person is in their presence.
Each weekend at the traditional market I have people shout at me from their vegetable, fruit, meat and fish stalls. I’ve heard everything from the simple “HEY,” to this blog’s namesake “HEY MISTER!” And sometimes I even hear men shout “BEAUTIFUL!” and “I LOVE YOU!” I’ve started to get used to it thought I’m still perfecting the best way to react, or if I should react at all.
Up until last weekend though, I had only had a few experiences where a complete stranger asked to have their photo taken with me. The first was at a durian stand in Kerinci. A teenager handed her friend her handphone and jumped next to me, flashed the peace sign and boom, I was suddenly being asked to snap photos with every person at the cart. The second was at SLB, the handicap school where I volunteer. Upon my first visit I had nearly every student come up and ask to have their photo taken with me.
Last weekend in Teluk Meranti though, things got a little crazy. While standing on banks of the Kampar River waiting to see the Bono Waves I found myself suddenly surrounded by locals wanting to have their picture taken with “the bule.” It started when we first arrived at a viewing point along the river (the wrong viewing point we later found out) and a photographer with a fancy schmancy camera asked if he could have a photo with me. I agreed, thinking it was a one-off thing. Within minutes I had mothers shoving their children at me and wrapping their arms around me. I’m not even kidding. At one point a mother carrying her small child pulled me in next to her only to SCARE THE CRAP out of her kid. Yep, the scary white woman made a baby cry. By the end of the day I had taken my photo with babies, children, angsty teenagers with emo hair, groups of women keen on hugging me about the waist, husbands and wives, entire families, rich folks carrying iPhone 4s and wearing blinged-out sunglasses as well as most of the local police department. For awhile it was pandemonium and my coworkers stood by watching, jokingly taunted that I should start charging Rp. 10,000 per photo, and eventually they too started taking pictures…pictures of people taking pictures of me because they thought it was hilarious. Admittedly though, it did get really tiring posing for photo after photo and more importantly, it made me feel completely ridiculous.
By the end of the trip my friends and coworkers couldn’t help but wonder, what was the real attraction at Teluk Meranti?
The Bono Waves or The Bule?